St. Joseph's feast should be a holy day of obligation

By 
  • October 13, 2010
The Oct. 17 canonization of Brother André of Montreal is a moment of pride for Canada’s Catholics, but something of a challenge too. How best to take advantage of the grace of this occasion?

Often a new saint is rather obscure, little known outside of a local place or religious order. That’s not the case with Brother André, who is well known across the land. At the same time, though, one does not see in parishes a visible devotion to Brother André, as one does with Padre Pio or Mother Teresa. Our new saint is also one who is difficult to imitate. The work that he did, serving as a doorkeeper, is not very much done today, and his miracle-working sets him apart from the life of the ordinary Christian disciple.


Yet the advice that Brother André gave to the thousands upon thousands who came to see him remains valid — Go to Joseph! Devotion to St. Joseph was the heart of Brother André’s specific charism. The great Oratory of St. Joseph on Mount Royal gives extraordinary witness to that.

Herewith then a proposal to apply the new saint’s advice to the life of the Church in Canada today: Make the Feast of St. Joseph a holy day of obligation. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Canada, and of the universal Church, so it would be fitting to declare his feast as a holy day throughout the country.

A faithful Catholic is obliged by canon law to attend Holy Mass every Sunday, as well as on special feasts — the holy days of obligation. There are 10 such days for the universal Church. Four are feasts of the Lord Jesus: Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi. Three are feasts of Our Lady: Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), Mother of God (Jan. 1), and the Assumption (Aug. 15). Three relate to the other saints: Joseph (March 19), Peter and Paul (June 29) and All Saints (Nov. 1).

Each country’s bishops are permitted to make adjustments and reductions. For example, in Ireland the feast of St. Patrick is a holy day. In Canada, the bishops decided years ago to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of holy days. The Church insists on Christmas, but permits the other three feasts of the Lord to be transferred to Sunday, so Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi are observed on Sunday in Canada. One feast of Our Lady must be kept, so in Canada we opted to keep only one, the feast of Mary, Mother of God. The three feasts of the saints can be abolished as holy days, and so we have.

The result is that Canada has the fewest number of holy days possible —  Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Along with the Australians, we are the bottom-dwellers of the Catholic world when it comes to holy days. But even the Australians are slightly better off, in that their Marian day is the Assumption, Aug. 15. Ours is Jan. 1, poorly attended by even faithful Catholics, and confused in the minds of many with New Year’s Day, a civic observance.

It’s rather embarrassing to explain to Catholics in other countries that we Canadians opt for the fewest possible holy days, which ought to be days to celebrate the richness of Catholic liturgical and devotional life.

So why not add St. Joseph’s feast to our list of holy days? The national patron’s feast is kept as a holy day by the Irish (St. Patrick) and the Americans (Immaculate Conception). The canonization of Brother André highlights that praying to St. Joseph is rooted in the history and popular piety of our people. As the largest and most imposing shrine in Canada, the Oratory of St. Joseph could easily become the focal point for the principal Mass in the country, drawing pilgrims and prelates from one coast to the other. And it would make concrete the advice of Brother André, Canada’s best known saint.

The establishment of a third holy day would also be an important liturgical signal, namely that doing the bare minimum is not the operating principle of Catholic life in Canada. Most vibrant parishes already have what one might call unofficial holy days — feasts that are kept with greater solemnity, often accompanied by processions and parish socials. There is already a desire to keep such feasts, and to have a national feast kept across the country would build upon that desire, and build up the unity of the Church across Canada.

St. André of Montreal, pray for us — and lead us to Joseph!

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